Under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1971, this is a fully copyrighted and protected work by law. Copyright is owned by and all rights are reserved to Nathanael Miller. No part may be reproduced in whole or part without my written permission. Facebook and Twitter links to this story may be shared; but the work itself and all characters are my intellectual property and may not be shared or reproduced except with written permission. All characters and events are fictitious.
On the Rocks
(A Short Navy Murder Mystery)
by Nathanael Miller
Navy Lt. Robert G. Norman was a very busy man. A seven-year Navy veteran and helicopter pilot, he was currently attached to the “Happy Warriors” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 227, or “HSC 227” for short. HSC 227 flew the new, high-tech MH-60S Seahawk helicopter and were responsible for everything from antisubmarine warfare to ferrying supplies from cargo ships to the carrier. HSC 227, like all helicopter (or “helo”) squadrons would send a detachment of the squadron to the carrier or other ship needing their services. Since reporting to HSC 227 Norman had already deployed once with a tiny detachment of two helicopters aboard the destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) and then with a full-sized detachment supporting Carrier Air Wing 3 aboard the supercarrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).
Norman had hours and hours of stick time under his belt, and was well along the training “pipeline” long established by naval aviation to keep his qualifications current. If he kept tracking like he was, one day he could quite possibly become a squadron commanding officer himself.
In the meantime he was more locally concerned with the small, everyday things that make up life on board Naval Station Norfolk in the Tidewater area of southeastern Virginia. He was on leave for one more week and spent absolutely no time around the hangar.
Monday he had spent a good bit of the day browsing the Navy Exchange outside the naval station’s gates. The Norfolk “NEX” was the largest NEX in the world, and Norman browsed the extensive line of flat screen TVs and computers in the electronics section just off the complex’s food court. An inexpensive Taco Bell lunch served him quite well before he shifted over to the clothing department. He bought a few new packs of underwear, a couple of “Navy Pride” T-shirts, and some shoes before going back and picking up a new monitory for his computer.
As it was getting late, he walked out of the NEX, across the parking lot, and had a somewhat early dinner in the Chili’s restaurant that sat between the NEX and the naval station movie theater. He splurged out and ordered a large plate of enchiladas (one beef, one chicken, one bean, and one cheese) smothered in an incredible mix of sour cream, spicy sauce, and rice. He threw all pretense of physical fitness to the wind and finished off the meal with a large piece of chocolate cake. All in all he killed the bulk of the day at the NEX complex, but managed not to spend too much money, just few hundred dollars.
Tuesday he explored the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Located along Owl Creek south of Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach (one of the seven cities comprising the Tidewater area) the Virginia Aquarium featured more than enough attractions to keep him entertained all day long. He had to beg off some engagements on Tuesday with friends of his, and was probably a little rude for doing so. However, he plead the need for some extended time on his own, and that was an argument a large number of people in the Navy would understand. After deployments, stressful exercises, or long stints of long working hours, many Sailors felt the need to just disappear for a few days whenever they could.
As a result Norman spent about two hours sitting in front of the aquarium’s Norfolk Canyon Aquarium exhibit, a huge tank simulating the environment of the deep-sea Norfolk Canyon about 70 miles off Virginia’s coast. Norman let the sand tiger sharks and rays and other fish mesmerize him as they glided around the sea water on the other side of the glass. He watched the aquarium’s staff put on an educational talk as they fed the sharks and other animals inside the tank.
Later on he was intrigued watching children and adults alike pet cownose rays and Atlantic stingrays in the stingray touch tank (the rays’s stingers were clipped off for safety). The Atlantic rays seemed to ignore the crowd, but a few of the smaller cownose rays did look to enjoy having their backs rubbed by the fingers of the visitors.
Later on he walked the facility’s nature trail to the Marsh Pavilion where he spent another hour watching the North American river otters cavort around their habitat The otters were little hams; they knew when a crowd had gathered and always started showing off when they had an audience.
Later he spent time enjoying the other exhibits on Virginia’s marshy ecosystems and their interplay with the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed. One round tank housing Chesapeake Bay blue crabs was particularly entertaining as it had a glass dome in the center of it. Norman watched children, encouraged by their parents, climb through an opening under the tank and raise their heads up into the dome, effectively seeing the blue crabs scuttling around from inside the tank. The children squealed with delight as the crabs picked their way around the simulated ecosystem. He finished his tour by stopping in the March Pavilion’s small gift shop where he bought a “Virginia Aquarium” refrigerator magnet and a coffee mug featuring a sea turtle on it.
Wednesday he popped out for a few minutes here and there to grab lunch or otherwise check out the hardware at Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, and Taylor’s Do-It Centers, but mostly he stayed home. He fielded a few emails from his parents and his girlfriend. She was also a Navy lieutenant, but she was a surface warfare officer aboard the destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112), which was homeported across the country in San Diego. She was deployed, so even email was spotty at best, but she sent a few quick snaps from her smart phone of her recent port call in Singapore. His parents were on his case to call them, but he managed to deflect them by emailing them he was sick and had lost his voice. Ok, it was a flat-out lie, but he really just did not want to talk to them.
Thursday…ah, Thursday! The ATM and gas station near his apartment in Norfolk’s Ghent district fueled his car and his wallet for a trip up to historic Yorktown. Once a thriving seaport in Colonial times, Yorktown gained eternal American fame by becoming the site where General Washington and his French allies trapped Britain’s Lord Cornwallis and his army. Although the allied victory at Yorktown did not immediately end the American Revolution, the calamity at Yorktown forced the British government to face facts: the American war was just way too expensive and those contumacious colonies simply did not generate enough revenue to justify the conflict. American secured her independence.
Norman’s morning was taken up in the National Park Service’s Visitor Center on battlefield. He learned one reason the battlefield and its earthworks were in such good shape was due to golf. Although the Revolutionary earthworks had been built over in the Civil War and then were partially reconstructed following detailed 18th century maps, the battlefield had been part of the old Yorktown Country Club for decades. The club had laid out the greens around the old siege lines, largely keeping the field’s structure intact.
Norman climbed into Redoubt 9, which the French had taken with great sacrifice, and walked to the remains of Redoubt 10, which the American forces, led by Col. Alexander Hamilton, had taken with only bayonets…and no American casualties! (Hamilton did not want a premature shot to alert the British to his approach, so he ordered his men to attack the redoubt with unloaded weapons). The seizure of these two British positions allowed Washington and his allies to close the noose by moving their cannon so close to Yorktown that they could shell it non-stop until Cornwallis surrendered.
Norman later walked along the town itself, picking up tidbits of history from the historical markers he read. Yorktown had mostly recovered from the devastation the 1781 Revolutionary siege had wrought only to be sucker-punched by the Great Fire of 1814. The fire did such damage that Yorktown’s central position as a seaport leading to the Chesapeake was lost forever, though the town did experience a small resurgence while used as a base by Union Forces during the Civil War.
Norman walked the entire length of the way through the small, bedroom town of modern Yorktown and finally spent his afternoon touring the new Museum of the American Revolution. Interactive exhibits and living historians created a portal to the United States’ founding conflict that appealed to adults and children alike. He was surprised to learn that families—even married couples—were divided by the Revolutionary War. He knew of the “brother vs. brother” nature of the later Civil War, but had never heard of such tragedies during the Revolution.
Norman was surprised to learn that Suffolk, just across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, was burned to the ground by the British in 1779. He was impressed the museum spent as much time on slaves, women, and “common folk” as it did on the great leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The featuring of small, obscure details like the burning of Suffolk and the lives of slaves and common folk enriched the story of the Revolution in ways he had not thought possible. He was duly impressed the museum provided such a truly broad picture.
So Thursday was a day of history. He spent at least $150.00 in the museum’s gift shop on a bust of Washington, a couple of books, and a Christmas tree ornament. Bundling all this into a plastic shopping bag, he commenced the long trek back through Yorktown towards the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. The May weather was pleasant and a far cry from the late rainy winter that had smacked Virginia back in March. However, as the temperature was over 80 degrees, he was quite damp with perspiration by the time he reached his sports car. He blasted the air conditioner on high as he headed towards I-64 and the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel across the James River back into Norfolk.
Friday he just went nuts. He visited a couple of clothing stores in Norfolk’s MacArthur Mall and put down at least $2,000.00 on a pinstriped suit. He decided to upgrade his DVD collection and dropped at least $200.00 on new Blu-Ray movies. Later he took in a movie and had a riot watching misfit outlaws guard the galaxy a second time from even more outlandish villains. He drove out to the Virginia Beach oceanfront, parked in a garage, and walked the long, concrete boardwalk, admiring the human scenery. The female half of the human scenery seemed to have gone all-out already in bikinis that challenged the imagination to find anything hidden.
He wanted the week to end on as high a note as possible, so he managed to get a seat at the high-class Catch 31 seafood eatery located in the Beachside Hilton. He spent at least two wonderful hours luxuriating in the some of the most expensive seafood in all of Virginia Beach. The price was no cause for objection, however. Catch 31’s reputation for exceptional elegance, service, and high-class food was unparalleled. Norman had a smashingly good dinner that was the perfect climax to his week. A couple of drinks kept him in the establishment for another hour before he cashed out and burned off the alcohol with another long walk on the boardwalk. He had no desire to be pulled over for a DUI, so he took his time, savoring the week’s grand accomplishments.
All in all, he was satisfied.
It had been a really good week.
Saturday and Sunday would be spent quietly, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You see, Lt. Norman’s week off had been a wonderful vacation. When his body was found on the rocks between the Cole and Iowa memorials along Naval Station Norfolk’s waterfront Sunday night, many people not directly affected by his loss might have remarked that, at least, his final week on earth had been spent happily. His drowning was a tragic event, but his final week was one of relaxation, education, and apparent happiness.
There was only one small problem.
When his body washed up on the rocks of the naval station’s waterfront Sunday night, Lt. Robert G. Norman had already been dead for at least a week.